Calendar Girl (kirilaw) wrote,
Calendar Girl

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Books, books, books

18, 19. "The Stratford Man" - Ink and Steel, Hell and Earth (Elizabeth Bear)
Bear's "Stratfod Man" duology is lovely and satisfying. It's about how poetry influences the world -- literally. In it, Faerie and the "real" world are inextricably tied together, and poets are the heroes who keep them both well. But it's really a pair of books about love, in all of its myriad forms. Our protagonist is Cristofer Marley, described in the dramatis personae as "dead. To begin with." (to my unending amusement. Did I mention these books are funny? Because they're full of wonderful little bits like that, to leaven the tragedy appropriately.) Marley's a poet and a spy and an elf-knight, and, most of all, a man who just needs to be loved. Bear gleefully mines the history and poetry of the time for explanations both completely plausible and utterly impossible -- I'm particularly fond of her complete explanation of the object(s) of Shakespeare's sonnets, and of her nod to the "real authorship" of his plays. Oh, and let's not forget the wonderful emotionally cathartic sex scenes. Even if they were a little embarrassing to read in public. *****

20. The Electric Church (Jeff Somers)
In a relentlessly horrible future world,  where there's not so much a gap between rich and poor as a Grand Canyon, and where living to thirty makes you an old man, the electric church offers eternal life... as long as you're willing to let them put your brain into a robotic body so that you can become a Monk. It's a creepy, well-realized environment, although I found it a little on the unrelentingly depressing side. The absence of hope is part of the point, but when it's coupled with a fast-moving caper plot, it's a little hard on the soul. The plot moves along at good pace, with plenty of dramatic confrontations and explosions, and culminating in an assemblage of Revelations. It's got something of the tone of a summer blockbuster with extra grit for credibility, which isn't usually my thing, although it does explain the complete disregard for human life. And the near-complete absence of female characters. This griping aside, it is a good story. And if it were more up my alley, I'd probably call it a great one. ****

21. The Mysteries (Lisa Tuttle)
This is a lovely example of the "fairy tale in the modern world" genre that I love so much. I really liked the way the fairy tale mysteries were handled, and the point of view was very nicely done. It was very nice to have the protagonist not be the young prince/princess for a change, and I enjoyed seeing real-world emotions and effects, handled in a realistic way. The interweaving of historical disappearances and mysteries was a nice touch, too. I'm not usually a fan of unresolved endings, but the not-quite-resolution in this case actually fit the book's theme quite well -- leaving a little (non-supernatural) mystery and open-endedness. Even if I do still want to know what happened. ****

22. Yarn Harlot: the Secret Life of a Knitter (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee)
A collection of vignettes about knitters and knitting, this is a sweet and amusing little book. It's not much more than a trifle, but it doesn't try to be anything more than that. It's very entertaining, and is pretty much guaranteed to make you smile. It also leaves no doubt at all that Stephanie Pearl-MacPhee is a little bit crazy, although not in a bad way. ****

23. Watchmen (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)
It's surprising how well Watchmen holds up after all these years. ****

24. Justinian (H.N. Turtletaub)
I was quite pleasantly surprised at how well this worked as a novel. It's an as-historically-accurate-as-
possible account of the life of Justinian II of the Byzantine ("Roman") Empire, and while he certainly had an, ahem, eventful life, too often this kind of story gets bogged down in the history. Especially when it's written by someone who identifies primarily as a historian, as in this case. But this book actually works. It even uses the hackneyed "book within a book" trick to surprisingly good effect. It's quite unsettling to watch the initially mostly-sympathetic (although certainly arrogant) character of Justinian descend into an almost moustache-twirling bad guy, even if you can understand how it would happen. Applause to Turtletaub for pulling the whole thing off. ****

25, 26, 27. King's Dragon, Prince of Dogs, the Burning Stone (Kate Elliott)
The first three books of a Big Fat Fantasy series set in an alternate Europe. And yet, it's not quite as conventional as that description would lead you to expect. The religion is centered around a dual God, with the female half being dominant to varying degrees. There are competing species which resemble humanity but aren't human -- the "elves" who were thought to have disappeared long ago, and the "rock children" of the North. I wonder how the Scandinavians would feel about the transformation of "Vikings" into half-dragons...? There's clearly been a lot of world-building done here, and it is a world populated by widely varying cultures which have resemblences to those of our world without being immediately mappable. The role of women in society is particularly interesting, as is the way slavery is handled. The individual characters are interesting and well-drawn, and even the apparently "bad" characters are sympathetically portrayed. Good and bad are not as clear-cut as they at first appear, although there's no doubt where our sympathy is meant to rest. I could ask for more racial diversity and/or some acknoweldgement of sexual orientation, but it is set in an alternative medieval Europe, so I'm probably being a bit unreasonable. Still. Overall, I have to say that the series is (so far) a very enjoyable read, complex and interesting, with lots of plot threads going on, but not so complex as to be difficult to follow. ****

28. Shadow Gate (Kate Elliott)
It's probably impossible for me not to compare this to Elliott's other series, since I'm reading it at the same time, and the upshot is that this is a slightly more mature work, with a more original setting and a better handling of some of the complaints I had with the Crown of Stars series. Racial diversity is helped by the setting being primarily in cultures where white skin is effectively unknown. This second volume adds an overtly lesbian character whose sexuality is not the most important thing about her. Also, I'm a sucker for the giant eagles. They're just cool. As are the winged horses. Yes, I read a lot of Mercedes Lackey as an adolescent. So sue me. In this volume we find out a little bit more about the Guardians, and about what's been happening to them. We also learn more about the army and its generals, and get some background on previously-introduced characters. It's all quite well-handled, and I find myself waiting with anticipation for the next volume. Kate Elliott gets credit for having rekindled my affection for traditional Epic Fantasy. *****

1. The Gone-Away World (Nick Harkaway)  *****
2. Old Man's War (John Scalzi) ****
3. Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (Walter M. Miller) *
4. Sprit Gate (Kate Elliott) *****
5. Sunshine (Robin McKinley) *****
6. Capacity (Tony Ballantyne) ***
7. Knitting Rules (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) ****
8. Rite (Tad Williams) ***
9, 10. Astonishing X-Men 1, 2 (Joss Whedon, John Cassaday et al) ***
11. Tigerheart (Peter David) ***
12, 13, 14. The Serrano Legacy: Hunting Party, Sporting Chance, Winning Colours (Elizabeth Moon) ****
15. Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Bryan Lee O'Malley) *****
16. Sweetness in the Belly (Camilla Gibb) *****
17. Serenity vol. 2: Better Days (Joss Whedon et. al.) ***
Tags: books

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